Report on The British Association for Advancement of Science (BA) Festival of Science, September 2006 as partial fulfilment of the Lilian Elizabeth Bowmaker Bursary Award from Loughborough University by Tariq Masood (PhD in Msechanical and Manufacturing Engineering)


As an international student studying PhD in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Loughborough University, UK, I was lucky to get Lilian Elizabeth Bowmaker Bursary to attend BA Festival of Science 2006. I did not believe when I got the congratulation letter that I have won the bursary. I was first person from Wolfson School to get this bursary. Many thanks to the Loughborough University and the award donors for enabling me to attend this worthwhile opportunity!!!

The festival, organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, aimed to make science more accessible to all. This year the festival took place at University of East Anglia, and the city of Norwich from 2 – 9 September 2006, which attracted over 400 of the best scientists and science communicators from home and abroad to reveal the latest developments in research to the general audience. The festival is the largest one of its kind in Europe. This year, the festival focused particularly on the social sciences – such as economics, sociology and political science – and considered their relevance to the main scientific issues of our time. This year engineering was also in focus along with sciences.

On arrival a welcome party was held for the students coming from different universities. It proved to be an ice breaker to know new friends and the party made us feel at home. In addition to the interesting and varied programmes, festival offered loads of exciting events, including scientific lectures, debates, special excursions to local sites, and many more. It was really difficult to choose which programme to attend as almost fifteen programmes ran simultaneously every day. I found most of them very interesting and did not want to miss any of them. The following are some of the events I have attended and want to share with you:

1. Beautiful Brains:

This program highlighted how our brains are truly amazing. The program elaborated that this 1.5kg organ that looks like a cauliflower not only gets us through daily life, but makes each of us unique, shapes our skills and is the foundation of creativity and genius. This was a day full of laughter and discovery, arts and magic. The full day program included:

         The origins of magical beliefs, from the benign to the bizarre;

         Do your eyes tell lies?

         Create your own brain;

         Visual music and synaesthesia in art and brains

         Comedy loosely based around beautiful brains throughout the day.

2. Energy Review Tour:

The one day Energy Review Tour was the main highlight of the Engineering side of the festival. It covered around 10 different alternative energy sources and we discussed the state of the art in those specialized fields. The whole day led by Prof Keith Tovey was magnificent and we visited Wind Mills in the local area, discussed their past, present and the future. We went to the Great Yarmouth Power Station and discussed their CCPP methods of production used for nPower.

         Solar Power;

         Gas Terminal;

         Sea Palling Reefs;

         Wind Pump;

         Wind Turbines;

         Great Yarmouth Power Station;

         Gulliver (Largest wind turbine in UK);

         Heat Pump;

         Bioethanol Pump

“Are you up for the (Energy) Challenge?”

with Prof Keith Tovey (UEA)

There were related energy review debates during panel discussions in the following days with eminent scholars on the panel. I participated and learnt a lot during those discussions.

3. Reconstructing past ice age environments

During this field trip, we examined the internationally-renowned sequences of “Ice Age” sediments exposed around the north coast of Norfolk. The excursion highlighted the various methods and techniques that can be used to reconstruct past environmental changes from sedimentary sequences and demonstrated how the sediments in the north Norfolk cliffs could be used to reconstruct the changing nature of the landscape, the growth and decay of major ice sheets, and the associated changes in the environment.

Hottest Debates

Below are some of the debates which I attended during the festival:

1. What does your blood say about you?

2. Mission impossible: Reinventing the three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle;

3. “Computer says no”: the social aspects of computer misuse (The BA Joseph Lister Award Lecture);

4. x-change (which discussed and summed up the programmes of every day).

Missed Events:

I missed events of 2-3 Sep due to the late start of the bursary package. Most of the other events were missed due to the parallel sessions. The subscript outlines a few of the missed events:

1.      Giant Bubble Experiment (3 Sep): Missed this Guiness World record attempt to enclose the greatest number of people inside a soap bubble.

2.      TRY Science (2-3 Sep): These fascinating two-days of discovery and exploration were also missed.

3.      The BA Isambard Kingdom Brunel Lecture: The role of materials technology in sporting performance (4 Sep)

4.      The most complicated machine in the universe? (4 Sep)


As an engineering student I had no chance to approach physical and social sciences so closely like this. The above are just those activities which I have attended however there were far more than those in the festival. Even though I am not an expert and just know the superficial knowledge of the latest technologies, it was really a wonderful learning opportunity. Whether you are a professional scientist or someone else with a burning interest in a particular subject, it was likely to be something for everyone with over 120 events during the week. I hope that you can have the chance to attend the BA Festival of Science 2007 which will be held in the University of York during 10-14 September 2007. The theme of the Festival, as set by the President for 2007 Lord Browne of Madingley, will be 'Energy and Human Progress'.